By Water and Blood — Love of Advent

Scripture Focus: 1 John 5.6
6 This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ.

John 3.5-6
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

Reflection: By Water and Blood — Love of Advent
By John Tillman

The coming of Jesus was long awaited. Afterward, it was long debated. Conflicts arose about the nature of Christ’s coming, especially among those who had prior beliefs about the world that they were unwilling to give up.

Gnostics believed flesh and matter were evil and only spirit was pure. God, a spirit, becoming flesh was unfathomable. They tried to find ways to explain the coming of Jesus without letting go of their preconceived beliefs. Perhaps Jesus was just an illusion? Perhaps a spirit that only appeared to have a body?

John pokes holes in these arguments just like Thomas poked his fingers into the holes in Jesus’ side and hands. Jesus came by water, a symbol for spirit, and by blood, a symbol of life and of death.

If Jesus only “appeared” on Earth, instead of living here, then Advent’s love is an illusion and a half-truth. But John assures us that this is not true. The Incarnation, John testifies, was not a Zoom call, or a holodeck adventure, or an experience in augmented reality. John touched, saw, heard, and believed in Jesus. The Jesus John loved (John 13.23), was not some phantasm. He was a physical, sweaty, sometimes napping, mud-making, foot-washing, blood-sweating Jesus. (Mark 4.38; John 9.11; 13.12; Luke 22.44

When placed in the hay as a baby, his tender skin itched. When he got a splinter in his father’s carpentry shop, his small fingers bled. When angry enough to swing a whip in the Temple, blood rushed to his face. When he stood at a friend’s grave, his guts roiled with emotion and tears rolled down his cheeks. When he knelt in the garden, his mind clouded with stress, anxiety, and fear as blood burst from his capillaries through his skin. When the soldiers punched him, their knuckles raised fleshy bruises. When they pulled out his beard, the blood and hair stuck to their hands and clothes.

Jesus was real. This means his love is real too. The love Jesus has for us is not some long-distance affection. He came close. His love for us is visceral and he lived that love out with passion in our physical world. He will come close to us if we draw close to him. You probably aren’t a Gnostic (although Gnostic-ish concepts are popular in our culture). However, you might have to let go of some cultural beliefs as you draw closer to Jesus.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. — Matthew 5.6

Today’s Readings
Esther 8 (Listen 3:41)
1 John 5 (Listen 3:00)

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Advent is a time in which we leave the front door unlocked for we know the time of Christ’s coming.

Another Love Chapter — Love of Advent

Scripture Focus: 1 John 4.7-16
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. 

1 Corinthians 13.13
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Reflection: Another Love Chapter — Love of Advent
By John Tillman

If asked about the Bible’s “Love Chapter”, most probably think of 1 Corinthians 13. Paul’s poem on love is well known for its beauty even outside of Christianity. I read it in literature classes. But there is another love chapter. 1 John 4 is the Apostle John’s.

What these chapters have in common is not sentimentality. They explore the serious implications of sound theology. Paul praises love as greater than any miraculous gift of the Spirit. John identifies love as the surest marker of one who belongs to God and knows God.

This entire chapter of John is about testing. After challenging his readers to “test the Spirits” by whether they testify to Christ’s full, bodily incarnation, John gives us a test for ourselves and for others: Are we loving? If we are not, John says, we do “not know God.”

Why is love the key John uses to open a door to God’s nature? Why does John choose love as the litmus test of identity for the people of God? Shouldn’t God’s nature be about power, glory, and honor? Shouldn’t Christian identity center on purity, holiness, or doctrinal alignment? 

It’s not that John is unconcerned about God’s glory or about doctrine. John’s gospel goes to greater lengths than others to emphasize the glorious divinity of Christ. John is also the loudest voice against gnosticim in scripture, defending the full and complete humanity of Jesus.

John’s concern is that our doctrines lead to actions that either testify to God’s glory or not. Right belief is best tested by right actions. Orthodoxy must lead to orthopraxy. If we don’t live in love, we don’t live in God. If we won’t love those we can see, our claim to love God whom we have not seen is in doubt.

John, who saw and touched Jesus (1 John 1.1), the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1.15), tells us that “in this world we are like Jesus.” One purpose of Christ’s advent was to show what God is like. The Holy Spirit’s advent in our hearts shares that purpose. If we don’t love, we are quenching the Spirit, misrepresenting God, and distorting his image.

Let us not just anticipate Jesus’ love for us this Advent, but proclaim it to others. Let Advent be an evangelistic imperative to invite others to see and experience the love of God.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
Keep me, Lord, as the apple of your eye and carry me under the shadow of your wings.

Today’s Readings
Esther 7 (Listen 2:08)
1 John 4 (Listen 2:58)

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What do people see when they see us waiting for Christ? What does that make them assume about Christ’s identity?

See What Great Love — Love of Advent

Scripture Focus: 1 John 3.1-3
1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 

Reflection: See What Great Love — Love of Advent
By John Tillman

Human family is often used as an analogy for spiritual family. However, human love consistently fails to show the full depth of God’s love. It is seeing through a darkened, warped glass. (1 Corinthians 13.12-13) All of us can probably think of strained relationships in our human families. There may be those we only tolerate because they are family or family members who only begrudgingly associate with us.

Cultural celebrations of love and family during the holidays can highlight this tension. Many of the stories we share or watch, especially holiday films, focus on perfect, or near-perfect, families. Even if at the beginning of a holiday film there is tension and division, we are sure that, before the credits roll, all will be well. In our own lives, however, finding that resolution is never a sure thing.

Even the best and healthiest of families fall short of being perfect examples of God’s family. Also, many people’s experience of family has been harmful or even abusive. In one way or another, human families fall short of divine family. 

Even the purest and most idealistic family we could imagine is insufficient to express the love of God for us. John glowingly tells us of our true hope in the love of God’s family. This love we anticipate at Advent is not begrudging affection. It is a full-throated cry of love from God’s heart for his children. It is lavish love. It is over-abundant, extravagant love.

We are brought in, not with apologies or cringing, but with joy and love. John tells us that we are loved now, as we are, but that what we will become through this love is not fully known. As Christ appears to us, we are to become more and more like him. His love transforms us to be like him and this transformation makes us more human, not less.

In the season of Advent and beyond, remember that beholding Jesus is the first step on a path to becoming more like him. 
Let us behold him, seeing how much he loves us.
Let us obey him, letting others see how he changes us.
Let us magnify him, becoming less in our own eyes so that he can become greater.
Let us emulate him, calling others to come and see what great love the Father lavishes on those who come to him.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Open my eyes, that I may see the wonders of your law. — Psalm 119.18

Today’s Readings
Esther 6 (Listen 2:40)
1 John 3 (Listen 3:21)

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Read more about He Invites Us — Love of Advent
Jesus invited the repentant thief…he invited me…and he invited you. Be ready for his coming. Respond.

Away in a Manger — Carols of Advent Love

Scripture Focus: 1 John 5:1-5
1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Luke 2:4-7
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

From John: Once again, I have been looking forward to Jon Polk’s Advent contributions related to music related to this time of year. Jon has always been a key source through whom I learned about unique music and artists worth discovering. Jon is a music connoisseur and collector with a massive collection of music, both on his shelves and in his heart. This week, please enjoy his exploration of the carols of Advent.

Reflection: Away in a Manger — Carols of Advent Love
By Jon Polk

One of the world’s favorite Christmas songs is the lullaby-like carol, “Away in a Manger.” A 1996 Gallup Poll ranked it as the second most popular of all carols. The simple, saccharine lyrics are beloved by both children and adults alike.

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

First published in a Boston newspaper in 1882 with the title, “Luther’s Cradle Song,” it was accompanied by a notation which read, “The following hymn, composed by Martin Luther for his children, is still sung by many of the German mothers to their little ones.”

The great German reformer himself, known to be generally rough and abrupt in manner, penned a sappy, sweet Christmas hymn?

Actually, no. The song is nowhere to be found in any of Luther’s hymn collections or theological writings. Furthermore, linguists have compared the English and German versions of the hymn and concluded that the German is the translation not the original. Not only did those German mothers not sing “Away in a Manger” to their children, but they had never heard the song until hundreds of years after Luther’s death.

(Most likely, the song was written for and became attributed to Luther in connection with events surrounding the 400th anniversary of his birth in 1883.)

If its pedigree is not attached to the famous Martin Luther, why is this sentimental little song one of the world’s most favored Christmas carols? Its staying power may be found in the universality of parent-child relationships.

The parent-child relationship is the only human relationship that is unchangeable, permanent, and exists from cradle to grave. Friendships may wane over time, work colleagues come and go, and sadly, even many marriages end in divorce.

However, a parent will always be a parent to their child. A child will always be the child of their parents. The biological relationship is forged in eternity. More importantly, the love of a parent for their child is like no other. Ask any parent of a newborn to describe that love and they will be at a loss for words. It is in a word: indescribable.

Father God has called us his children. God’s love for us will never change. It is permanent, infinite, all-encompassing, unlike any other love. It is in a word: indescribable.

When we sing “Away in a Manger,” we are reminded of a parent’s profound love for a tiny, innocent baby and in turn, reminded of the infinitely more profound love that God has for us, his children.

I love you, Lord Jesus; look down from the sky,
And stay by my side till morning is nigh.

Listen: Away in a Manger by Shane & Shane (familiar US tune)
Listen: Away in a Manger by Lauren Daigle (familiar UK tune)
Read: Lyrics from

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 6.11-42 (Listen – 7:17)
1 John 5 (Listen – 3:00)

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Read more about How Are You Waiting? — Hope of Advent
When we do the joyful work of anticipation and preparation for Christ’s Advent, we may find that it is actually we who are coming home.

Scandalous Surprise of Hope — The Hope of Advent

Scripture Focus: 2 Chronicles 2.5-6
5 “The temple I am going to build will be great, because our God is greater than all other gods. 6 But who is able to build a temple for him, since the heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain him? Who then am I to build a temple for him, except as a place to burn sacrifices before him? 
1 John 2.7-8
7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. 

Reflection: Scandalous Surprise of Hope — The Hope of Advent
By John Tillman

Who are we to have such hope as advent promises? That Christ would come to us is baffling, surprising, and to some, scandalous. Yet he did and does and will do so.

Past promises pave a way for faith in the future. God’s gift comes to all as assuredly as it did before. Darkness will pass and true light will shine.

Christ was at one time hidden but was then revealed. He is the peasant child foretold by a star. He is the lowly babe, announced in the heights of heaven. He is the pearl discovered in the field. He is a treasure in a jar of clay. He is the lamp placed on a stand. He is a candle revealed when the bushel is kicked over. He is the light from the holy of holies spilling out when the curtain was torn from top to bottom. 

We see Christ as a living paradox and a mystery, a foolish farce to some and a source of unshakable faith for others. He is the uncontainable God, “tabernacling” in a human-made temple. He is the good which comes from a town no good thing could come from. He is the God who could not be seen, being born with a face to be kissed by his teenage mother. He is the source of life, whose life was snuffed out on a Roman cross and the source of light whose death put out the light of the sun that he called into being.

As we have written before about Jesus:

This is the glory of the incarnation— that God draws us in and shows us the fullness of who he is and what he is like in the form of a baby. He was hidden in the darkness of the womb, hidden in the darkness of the night of his birth, hidden in the arms of peasants from the eyes of the powerful. He was revealed to the outcasts, the unworthy, the foreigners, and the humble.

What is hidden will be revealed and what seems mysterious or foolish in the gospel will prove to be greater than all the wisdom of humankind. God will surprise us. New things, new light, new hope springs up even now for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the morning Lessons
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. — 2 Corinthians 4.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 2 (Listen – 3:41)
1 John 2 (Listen – 4:04)

This Weekend’s Readings

2 Chronicles 3-4 (Listen – 5:42), 1 John 3 (Listen – 3:21)
2 Chronicles 5-6.11 (Listen – 9:47), 1 John 4 (Listen – 2:58)

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Read more about The God of Light, in the Dark :: Hope of Advent
This is the glory of the incarnation— that God draws us in and shows us the fullness of who he is and what he is like in the form of a baby.